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Tex-Mex is some seriously beer-friendly food. The particular blend of savory and spicy flaovrs go well with a wide range of beer styles from light to dark. The driving force of these dishes is often a dusky sauce made from raisiny ancho chilies and seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, and cumin. But lightly sweet corn tortillas offer a flavor from the lighter side as well.
This recipe for cheese enchiladas offers three avenues of approach for pairing beers: we have corn tortillas, spicy seasoning, and raisiny, dried-fruit flavors from the sauce. You want to pick beers that will stand up to the darker flavors without overwhelming the lighter ones. Also, the abundance of cheese and rich sauce call for something with some palate cleansing potential.
To highlight the flavors of the corn tortillas, go with a Dortmunder or American-style lager. Both of these styles have moderate to low bitterness, which allows the malt to do its thing. The characteristic corny notes of the American lager are a natural complement to the tortillas. Dortmunder is a heftier beer with some additional malt sweetness to pull out a light sweetness from the dish. Both styles have ample carbonation and just enough hops to counter the richness of the cheese and sauce.
To play the spicy side, pick a dry and zesty American pale ale. These beers have less malt sweetness than India pale ale, leaving them crisp and cleansing. The hops and spice are allowed to play without malt getting in the way. It will amplify the heat without overwhelming the other flavors. The bright citrus of American hops gives a nice fruity counterpoint to the darker flavors of the sauce.
Traditional bocks and dark Belgian ales are great complement to the dish's darker side. Malty dried-fruit flavors in both styles pull out the raisiny character of the ancho chilies. The yeasty fruit of the Belgian ale amplifies and adds to the subtle fruitiness of the peppers. Hints of chocolate in the bock bring mole to mind when combined with the sauce. But go with a traditional bock instead of a doppelbock, which can overwhelm the dish.
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Michael's Beer Picks
The Light Side
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold: A slightly strong version of the style, this beer has enough heft to stand up to the stronger flavors in the dish. Well balanced between sweet malt and spicy hops, it converses with the tortillas without ignoring the spice.
Dave's BrewFarm Select: Light and simple, this golden lager simply sings with the tortillas. It's not as sweet or as bitter as the Dortmunder, but that simplicity is what makes it a great pairing, it connects without getting in the way.
The Spicy Side
Left Hand Stranger: A little bit of rye malt gives Stranger an extra spicy kick underneath the citrusy hops. That added spice provided added interest to the spice/hop connection. It's crisp and light with a cleansing dry finish.
Sierra Nevada Torpedo: Sierra Nevada uses a special hopping process to give this one a huge citrusy punch. That fruitiness adds bright highlights to the pairing. It's another well-attenuated palate cleanser.
The Dark Side
Schell's Bock: Full-bodied and malty but balanced, it has enough oomph to stand up to the dish without overpowering its lighter elements. Subtle plummy notes and caramel sweetness dig in deep to pull out the subtle raisin in the sauce.
Pauwel Kwak: "Now we're getting to the raisins!" say my notes. The combination of malty dried-fruit flavors and yeast-derived lighter fruits really brings out the ancho chilies. The higher alcohol works to clear the palate.
What would you drink with this Tex-Mex treat?
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint